York SPCA now helping wild animals, too

Liz Evans Scolforo
York Dispatch
  • If you find an injured wild animal, call the York County SPCA at 717-764-6109.
  • People can also call Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Lancaster County at 717-808-2652.

Walk into the York County SPCA any day of the year and you'll be greeted by an array of adoptable creatures.

But the Emigsville shelter is now taking raptors and other injured or orphaned wild animals under its wing, a decision made after shelter officials were approached by Rehabitat Inc., York County's longtime, and now former, nonprofit raptor rehabilitation group.

Wild animals can't be adopted and won't be on public display.

Dr. Jennifer Johnston (left) a staff veterinarian at the York County SPCA, holds an injured red-shouldered hawk whose injured wing she wrapped. At right is York Co. SPCA Executive Director Melissa Smith.
(Photo courtesy of Wendy Ebersole Looker)

Melissa Smith, executive director of the York County SPCA, said she sees the shelter's new role as being a support system for the area's existing — and dwindling — state-certified wildlife rehabilitators.

She said the SPCA will act as a way station for members of the public who have found injured birds, reptiles and certain wild mammals. Shelter staff and volunteers will help field the public's phone calls, answer questions, take in approved wildlife and get those animals to the proper rehab facilities.

They will not retrieve wildlife from the field, Smith said — people must be willing to drop off animals at the shelter at 3159 Susquehanna Trail North in Manchester Township.

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Vets are ready: If a wild animal requires the care of a veterinarian, one of the shelter's four staff vets will treat it before it's transported to a rehabilitator, she said.

"We're not trying to reinvent the wheel," Smith said. "These (rehabbers) have been doing the job and doing it well. But we can be a temporary holding facility for wildlife until we can get those animals where they need to go."

The recent retirement of Wendy Ebersole Looker as a raptor rehabilitator leaves fellow York County raptor rehabber Mitzi Eaton as the only state-certified person doing this work in a five-county area.

"I see so much potential here," said Eaton, who has been rehabbing raptors for three decades.

She said it will be "beyond helpful" to her if SPCA workers can take in raptors and transport them to her Hellam Township-area facility.

"The goal is to get the animal to the right rehabilitator as soon as possible," said Looker, from the Hanover area. "I know it's going to be a lot for the SPCA to navigate the waters and see where they fit in, but I'm delighted they're willing to try."

Raptor rehabilitator Wendy Ebersole Looker and Leader Heights Animal Hospital vet Dr. Ann Pettigrew examine the wings of an injured immature bald eagle.
(Photo courtesy of Rehabitat Inc.)


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Raven Ridge: Injured mammals, songbirds and other "passerines," or perching-type birds, will likely go to Raven Ridge Wildlife Center in Washington Boro, Lancaster County.

Run by Tracie Young, Raven Ridge took in nearly 2,200 animals last year. While Young does not rehabilitate raptors, she can take them in on Eaton's behalf as a sub-permittee regulated by the Pennsylvania Game Commission. Young also is a sub-permittee for a center that rehabilitates passerines.

She also is certified to care for mammals considered "rabies vector species," including bats, skunks, fox and raccoons. However, the SPCA will not be accepting any rabies vector species at its shelter. 

"This is not a 9-to-5 job," Young warned a group of interested SPCA staffers and volunteers at a July 20 informational meeting.

Looker, who rehabilitated raptors for 25 years, agreed. At the meeting, she described the unpaid calling as time-consuming and energy-draining.

"It's basically life-sucking," Looker said.

First patient: The SPCA took in its first injured wild animal in mid-June, a red-shouldered hawk with a wing injury, brought to the shelter by Looker. It was found in Hanover, Looker said.

An X-ray determined the young bird suffered a broken bone, and SPCA staff veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Johnston wrapped its wing so the fracture could begin healing.

"That was a learning experience for all of us," Smith said. "It was so fascinating and so rewarding. To see that bird up close? We were in awe."

The bird was transported to Eaton's facility, where it continues to recover and is expected to be released back into the wild, Eaton said.

Dr. Jennifer Johnston (left) a staff veterinarian at the York County SPCA, holds an injured red-shouldered hawk whose injured wing she wrapped. At right is York Co. SPCA Executive Director Melissa Smith.
(Photo courtesy of Wendy Ebersole Looker)

Ground rules: Smith said people who find injured wildlife must call the SPCA shelter before bringing in the animals, as certain animals won't be accepted.

People can call the shelter for tips about how they can help wildlife themselves, such as what to do if they find a nest of baby rabbits that's been disturbed or a bird's nest and chicks on the ground.

SPCA staffers will be provide the public with contact information to local rehabbers such as Young and Eaton, Smith said.

Rehabitat Inc.: Looker said the members of Rehabitat Inc., a registered nonprofit organization, voted to shut down their organization when Looker — the only rehabilitator affiliated with Rehabitat — retired.

It has transferred $50,000 to the SPCA so far and is expected to transfer another $50,000. Smith said that money will be set aside specifically to help local wildlife rehabilitators and rehabilitation efforts.

Looker founded Rehabitat in 1992 and recently beat cancer.

"I couldn't do the physically demanding work anymore," she said. "I'm sure all (nonprofit) organizations are feeling the pinch. People have limited time and energy."

Looker said she's tired of seeing raptors die from "completely inexcusable and totally avoidable" problems, such as rodenticides, lead poisoning and irresponsible trapping practices.

"I'm not going to have to live with the frustration of spending endless hours catching, treating and losing patients to these absurd circumstances," she said of retirement.

— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at levans@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.



  • Never feed or give water to any wild animal you've captured to take to a rehabilitator, experts say — period. Well-meaning people can make a injured animal's condition worse by trying to give it food, water or milk.
  • If you disturb a nest of baby rabbits, simply leave it alone; the mother will not abandon the nest. Don't assume a mother rabbit is dead or has abandoned her young simply because you don't see her. Mother rabbits visit the nest twice a day, at dawn and dusk, for about five minutes, Young said. If the babies are injured and bleeding, call Raven Ridge Wildlife Center.
  • Baby bunnies who are three-quarters the length of a dollar bill — or about 4½ inches long — are able to fend for themselves in the wild and don't need to be "saved."
  • Don't move, touch or try to feed baby owls. Owl parents continue to feed, support and teach offspring that have made their way to the ground. Baby owls also can climb into trees. Experts say the worst thing you can do is meddle.
  • If you see a songbird chick on the ground and it appears unhurt, simply put it back into its nest. Birds don't have a sense of smell, so a mother bird won't abandon the chicks. If the nest is too high to reach, build a small makeshift nest, wire it into the same tree and put the chick in it, as the mother will then feed chicks in both nests. Raven Ridge has tips about how to build a makeshift bird nest.
  • If you find an injured or abandoned baby squirrel, it must go to a rehabilitator to survive, experts say. Many people think they've "saved" a baby squirrel by taking it in and feeding it a nursing formula made for cats or dogs. This never works, Young said, and always results in metabolic bone disease.
  • If you capture a rabies-vector species, such as a raccoon, and you feed it, state law will require rehabilitators to euthanize the animal to test for rabies.
  • If you find an injured raptor, throw a towel over it, grab it around the wings and put it in a cardboard box (like a computer paper box), gently pulling out the towel before putting on the lid and securing it. Keep the box in a warm, dry, quiet place and find a rehabilitator. Leave the bird alone and don't let it hear you talking. Keep the box away from air conditioning.
  • Reach the York County SPCA at 717-764-6109. Reach Raven Ridge Wildlife Center at 717-808-2652.